The Full Story Behind the “8 Minute Daf”
By Bentzy Friedman
(note: to sign up for the 8 Minute Daf Daily Review via WhatApp CLICK HERE)
R’ Eli Stefansky had a problem he needed to solve. He delivered a popular Daf Yomi early morning shiur in Ramat Beit Shemesh and the number of attendees grew daily. His shiur was also streamed live online and had garnered an international following. R’ Eli delivers an informative, exciting and entertaining shiur. He prepares many visual aides to make the Daf come alive, helping to comprehend complicated scenarios in the Daf.
However, there was one constant request that the attendees would constantly request of them. “Eli, we need to find a way to chazer the Daf. We want to remember what we learnt yesterday and not forget it so fast.”
At first, Eli tried to dedicate time at the beginning of the shiur to chazering the previous day’s Daf, but that proved impractical. It would take away from the time needed for that day’s Daf. He then tried giving a weekly 45-minute Thursday night shiur during which he would review the previous week’s dafim. Once again it proved difficult for his baalei batim to adhere to; they all had busy schedules and needed a different solution.
Late one night, as he was preparing for the next day’s Daf, he had a brainstorm. What if he could record a concise summary of the Daf and anyone could watch or listen to it at their convenience? He toyed with the idea for a while and, as a zechus for a loved one, he gave it a shot. He took out his cell phone, balanced it on a few books, and pressed record. It took him a couple of tries, but he finally had something he could send to a few trusted confidants to get their opinion. They loved it and The 8-Minute Daf was born.
Today, The 8-Minute Daf is seen by thousands every day through various mediums. It is professionally filmed and it solves the problem Eli had – whether on the train, driving home from work or anytime at all. With only 8 minutes, one can chazer Daf Yomi. Amazingly, in under an hour, one can chazer all of the previous week’s dafim as well.
Eli Stefansky was born in Lakewood, but has moved around his entire life. When he was ten-and-a-half years old, his parents moved the family to Bnei Brak, determined to immerse themselves in the local culture of Torah and yiras Shamayim. Though Eli’s father did nothing to attract attention to himself, preferring to learn undisturbed on his own, Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach heard about the brilliant young talmid chacham from America and set up a chavrusah-shaft with him every Motzaei Shabbos. Eli made a point of accompanying his father to Rav Shach’s home. There he watched his father and the Ponovezher rosh yeshivah learning together, and was the recipient of weekly candies from Rav Shach’s private stash. But when Eli turned fifteen, the Stefansky family moved back to the States, where he was enrolled in Passaic Yeshivah – the youngest bochur in the yeshivah. He would eventually move on to Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin and then to Yeshivas Mir-Yerushalayim, where he learned under Rav Asher Arieli. After his marriage to Faige Friedman of Chicago, the young couple remained in Eretz Yisrael for three years of learning at the Mir, which was followed by another three years of learning in kollel back in Chicago. At which point Eli entered the world of business.
He tried a number of different ventures, eventually settling on real estate. It didn’t take him long to turn his company – Prime Quest – into a successful enterprise. At the same time, he missed the learning that he’d had in the past. He missed the “mechayeiv” that came when a person obligated himself to really know the material that he learned. He was working, he was making money – and he even delivered a Daf Yomi shiur in Chicago for a complete cycle. But he never stopped feeling that he didn’t know the Gemara the way that he felt he should. In Eli’s mind, the question was what to do about that.
The Stefansky family was settled in Chicago. They were surrounded by family and had lots of friends. And yet, a part of Eli dreamed of leaving America and returning to Eretz Yisrael. Originally deciding to try it for a year, they boarded a flight and moved into a home in Ramat Beit Shemesh. Eli hoped to spend the majority of his days learning, with monthly business trips to America to make sure his real estate company, Prime Quest Management, remained on top of its game.
Today, Eli works harder than ever, albeit in a slightly different “business.” He spends many, many hours daily preparing, learning, reviewing and delivering a popular Daf Yomi shiur in Ramat Beit Shemesh, as well as working daily on his brainchild, The 8-Minute Daf, a unique video synopsis of the daily daf in both Hebrew and English.
I was fortunate to participate in Eli’s daily shiur to see how Eli has brought about a transformation of his Anglo neighborhood in Ramat Beit Shemesh. I attended a Friday morning Daf Yomi. I asked Eli about leaving Chicago for Eretz Yisrael.
“In the beginning, I didn’t give up much of my involvement in my business. I traveled to Chicago once a month for five days and was still heavily involved while in Eretz Yisrael.”
But he eventually gave up his direct control of the business to his business partner. “I took baby steps. I decided I wanted to get back into Daf Yomi. I had given a shiur in Chicago for eight years, but then I stopped not only delivering a shiur but also learning the Daf myself. Now wanted to get back into it. I sat down in a local shul to learn the Daf.
“It was siyata diShmaya that I had sat down amongst a chaburah learning the Daf b’iyun. That’s where I met my current chavrusah, who’s a true gadol baTorah; he literally knows Shas baal peh. That’s something I highly recommend: Get yourself a mentor—someone who’s better than you are in learning and hashkafah. I started learning the Daf several times a day. I didn’t decide one day to drop it all and learn over ten hours a day. It happened gradually, increasing hour by hour.
“A big nekudah—and I believe it’s also a key component to growth in both business and in life—is creating a mechayev for yourself, putting yourself into a situation where you have a responsibility to perform a positive action. I’m not a natural masmid. It was necessary for me to force myself to be committed to this increase in learning. In the past, I would start learning and then get sidetracked by something.
“I wanted something more steady, so in 2016 I started giving a shiur once a week on Thursdays. I’d give a synopsis of the week’s seven dafim in 45 minutes, and I made a big seudah every week in order to be mechayev myself. We had 30 guys a week at the shiur; we also had cholent, kugel, sushi—the works. I knew guys would show up, so I had to be very well prepared. Even when I would travel back and forth to America, I would make sure to be back for the Thursday synopsis shiur. This forced me to learn on the flight and between business meetings.
“Several guys asked me to give the daily Daf and I agreed. Generally, when people want to start learning the Daf, they wait for a new cycle to begin—a new masechta, or at least a new perek. The yeitzer hara is a true professional in finding excuses. So we purposely started smack in the middle of Maseches Avodah Zarah, daf chaf ches, in the middle of a sugya. When it comes to the Daf, every day is a new masechta. There’s always a new sugya that you can jump in and join. We started with five guys and it quickly grew.
“I try to make the shiur exciting. I want to show that Torah can be very geshmak, and a good story or nice joke always helps. I spend time working on entertaining charts, and the shiur is carried out in a lively atmosphere.”
But Eli didn’t confine himself to just giving the shiur to the attendees. I asked him what pushed him to create a video synopsis of the shiur.
“A few people told me that when they couldn’t make it, they’d still like to be part of the shiur. They asked if I would be able to livestream it. We started streaming live, and it’s great that once the shiur is over, it’s automatically archived for later viewing. When you stream live, it’s a lot easier than filming and later uploading.
“It’s interesting what has become of all this. Today there is a group of six Yidden living in Manchester who gather to watch the shiur stream live. They use it to prepare for a local Daf shiur that they attend later. They’re a very big part of our shiur. They ask questions online and share in our simchos.
“This past January, a Yid whom no one recognized showed up to our shiur. He told us that he lives in New York and watches the replay of the shiur every day on the subway and wanted to see the shiur live.
“Another unique advantage of our shiur is that since we live in Eretz Yisrael, we are the earliest daily Daf shiur available online in English.
“The 8-Minute Daf was an idea I was toying with for quite a while. Instead of the weekly synopsis, I knew that a quick daily chazarah video would be of great benefit to the public. At the same time, I also knew the tremendous amount of time it would take. When a close relative of mine was diagnosed with cancer, as a zechus for her recovery, I decided to begin the 8-Minute Daf daily videos in her merit.
“It takes me over six hours a day to prepare and film the 8-minute clips. I have to learn the sugya very well in order to condense the important points into 8 minutes. I am also very hands-on. I create charts and props that take time. I do two separate clips, one in Hebrew and one in English. It’s spread around through social media and online. We just launched a site where people can sign up to receive the latest 8-Minute Daf as soon as it loads.
note: to sign up for the 8 Minute Daf Daily Review via WhatApp CLICK HERE)
“There is a gentleman from Los Angeles who, while on a surfing trip in Costa Rica, found our shiur online. Since then, he has never missed a day. He visited Eretz Yisrael for two days and spent them in Tel Aviv, but he made sure to make it to our shiur on both days, bringing us boutique coffee.”
What did Eli give up, as far as his business is concerned, to dedicate his day to learning?
“Everything. I was in charge of growing the business. Business, especially the real estate business, is all about chasing the next deal or adding to your portfolio. You spend time looking for another deal or making your current portfolio more efficient. There’s always something to improve. Giving up that part of the chase was not easy.
“Also, honestly, I don’t feel I can lose money. Hashem decides on Rosh Hashanah what I will get. I was nervous at the outset of my current business arrangement, but then a deal came out of nowhere, and I quickly realized that had I been in Chicago, I probably would have messed up Hashem’s plan of giving me parnassah.
“In terms of hishtadlus, there came a time when I realized that I’m getting older. I felt the need to make a change. I am an entrepreneur by nature, and The 8-Minute Daf is my newest business deal. The more Torah I can spread, the more ‘business’ I can earn.”
What would Eli say to someone who says, “It’s easy for you to learn all day because you can afford to”?
“Look, I didn’t quit working cold turkey and learn all day; it was a gradual process. One of the main points I want to emphasize—and I think this applies to everyone—is that every one of us can add more time to his learning. When I first started giving the weekly synopsis of the week’s dafim a few years ago, I had no intention to learn all day. Each one of us can create a mechayev on himself. You can give a shiur. It can be two or three people, or you can commit to a chavrusah. One of the best ‘mechayevs’ I’ve taken on was to take the Dirshu test. I went for the 240-daf test, and I never learned so much in my life. I highly recommend it. A commitment, such as a chazarah program, forces you to learn.
“People are very driven. We often dedicate 90-plus percent of our time to parnassah. If you sit back and reflect, you can add to your learning. If you learn 20 minutes, you can probably squeeze in some more time and learn 40 minutes. When I worked all day, I could not imagine giving up any of my work for learning. As I’ve said, it was a gradual process. We can all—every one of us—make small incremental changes. Doing so is guaranteed to change our lives.
“That’s one of the concepts behind the 8-Minute Daf. Anyone can chap arein 8 minutes. You can review it in your car or while walking to work. Everyone has 8 minutes. Even if you don’t learn the Daf, you can get a wide range of yedios and general knowledge. Every single day, we learn a new concept in learning that we weren’t familiar with the day before.”
Does being a businessman affect the way Eli gives his Daf Yomi shiur or carries out his other Torah ventures?
“I think it helps people relate to me. I am a simple baal habayis, not a rav. I’m a regular business guy like everyone else. I like to learn, and I hope people think, ‘If he can do it, so can I.’ I’m one of the guys—a baal habayis who gives a shiur. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, I use my entrepreneurial skills to make the shiur work.
“The 8-Minute Daf is not just a video of me speaking. It is an audio-visual experience. There are informative pictures and graphs that pop up on the screen. The feedback has been tremendous. We have people from across the world who use The 8-Minute Daf both as a tool for chazarah and also as a tool for preparation. One of the best feelings is when I get messages from maggidei shiur who deliver Daf Yomi shiurim themselves who say they use The 8-Minute Daf to help them prepare their shiur.
Eli says that the demands put on him by a daily shiur are serious.
“I went on a ski trip with my sons and was forced to make time to film The 8-Minute Daf. No matter what’s going on, you can find time to learn the Daf. That’s really my message in life. I’m not telling people to quit their jobs, but maybe you can work 14 hours a day instead of 15. Find 10 minutes and then another 10. We’re hustling so much that we forget the point of why we’re working in the first place.
“And if you don’t have 10 minutes, you can start with 8.”
note: to sign up for the 8 Minute Daf Daily Review via WhatApp CLICK HERE
This article is based on a feature that originally appeared in Ami Magazine.